Eric Lang has been on a long journey which has seen him to date release three 'dudes on a map' games. His first was during his time at Fantasy Flight Games and was set in the Warhammer universe: you will never see the likes of Chaos in the Old World again unfortunately. The third game in the trilogy is set in feudal Japan: Rising Sun (CMON). And sandwiched in the middle is the critically acclaimed and well loved CMON classic Blood Rage. Apparently, we are shortly to be introduced to the fourth game, Ankh, which is set in ancient Egypt and is currently on Kickstarter. That may turn out to be the magnum opus of this group of games, but now you have four games and that’s a quadrilogy and who wants one of those? It sounds more like hip surgery than an achievement. :-)
It is important to remember that these are all 'dudes on a map' games and if you don’t like this genre of games then you are not going to like Blood Rage. That, my friend, is your loss. From the fantastic stylised art of Adrian Smith, Mike McVey and Henning Ludvigsen, to the sumptuous, detailed miniatures, this is a game that has had a whole lot of love poured into it. Every ounce of this game screams quality at you with the volume turned up to eleven.
My personal opinion of Eric Lang is that not every one of his games hits the mark, but he always tries to do something different and he always works hard to integrate the theme with the mechanics and gameplay. This is a game that does hit the mark.
Blood Rage is a Viking free-for-all from CMON and Guillotine Games, and the game is the literal epitome of 'death and glory'. Each player leads a clan of Vikings into battle over the provinces on the map. If you succeed in pillaging a province then your clan gains a benefit and increases one of its stats; but more on this later. The game is played over three rounds and after each round there is Ragnarok. For those who are not fully conversant with their Norse mythology, during Ragnarok, Odin goes on a massive week-long drinking binge which culminates in him destroying an entire province. It’s the modern day equivalent of a bunch of teenagers in hoodies hanging around drinking and usually ends with courts issuing Antisocial Behaviour Orders or ASBOs for short. Perhaps, if I’m honest, the modern equivalent doesn’t quite have the same apocalyptic drama of Ragnarok.
The economy in Blood Rage is finely tuned and as taut as a bowstring. Each player has three main resources: Rage, Axes and Horns. Rage is spent to take actions, including invading a province, moving around the map and playing cards. When your clan runs out of Rage then you cannot take any more actions in the current round. Your clan’s Axes stat represents how many Glory points you receive from successfully pillaging a province; in other words, victory points. Your Horns stat tells you how many of your clan members you can have on the board at any time.
Each player has a hand of cards. There are several types of card, including quests that your clan must achieve at the end of the round to gain glory, monsters that your clan can field in the battle and upgrades to your leader, warriors, or clan. When a player decides to pillage a province, each player in turn has the option to move one of their clan members from an adjacent province into the province to be pillaged. This continues until all the spaces (villages) in the province are filled or until all players pass consecutively. Players then each choose a card from their hand and simultaneously reveal and add the strength of the clan members in the province to any strength shown on the card. The clan with the highest strength in the province wins, and if it was the clan that decided to pillage the province then they succeed and take the reward to increase one of their clan stats. All the clan members from the defeated clans are killed and sent to Valhalla.
Finally, once everyone has exhausted their Rage, Ragnarok happens and everyone in the province where Odin has decided to have his party is killed and sent to Valhalla. Everyone then gets released from Valhalla and returned to the players' supply, points are totalled for completed quests and a new round of card drafting takes place. Rage is reset to the value on the player’s board and you commence round 2; rinse and repeat one more time for round 3. Highest glory points wins.
Great games have difficult decisions and Blood Rage has plenty; whether it’s the timing of when you pillage the province, the cards you take and those you pass to your opponent in the draft, and whether you compete in the next battle or keep your metaphorical powder dry and wait for the next round. Blood Rage is a high-octane resource management, area control game with a high degree of player interaction which is likely to lead to blood, sweat and tears. This is a style of game that Eric Lang has clearly honed his skills on over the years.
(Review by Jason Keeping)